Forms of Traditional Theatre in India

Traditional Theatre

In different regions of India, there are religious festivals, fairs, gatherings, ritual offerings, and prayers, almost throughout the year. During these occasions, traditional theatre forms are presented. They reflect the common man’s social attitudes and perceptions. In this social portrayal, there is also the individual’s role, which is given due importance.

In traditional theatre forms, there are special styles of dance portraying the entry onto the stage or platform, narrative and descriptive roles. The best example of descriptive acting is the Bidapat naach. In this traditional theatre form, emphasis is not a beauty, but on acting itself and no narrative and descriptive skills. Dance as a narrative art is the base of theatre form, which can be seen in the traditional theatre form of Bhavai of Gujarat.

In this form, quick or slow foot movement is means of narration. The art of making the entry by dancing has been perfected in the traditional Kashmiri theatre form, Bhand Jasn. The way each character walks and enters the platform identifies him. In Koodiyaatam and Ankia Naat, the entry by dancing itself is complicated and artistic. In the forms, the tampo and basic posture and gesture identify the role of the character.

Forms of Traditional Theatre

Bhand Pather

It is the traditional theatre form of Kashmir and a unique combination of dance, music and acting. Satire, wit and parody are preferred for inducing laughter. In this theatre form, music is provided with Surnai, Nagaara and Dhol.


It is the folk theatre of Kerala which came into existence in the middle of AD 17th century under the patronage of king Manavada of Calicut.

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It is the traditional folk theatre form of Kerala and is celebrated in the month of Vrischikam (November-December). It is usually performed only in the Khali temples of Kerala.


Traditionally, this form was mainly music-based. Gradually, prose too played its role in the dialogue. The softness of emotions, accomplishment of rasa along with development of character can be seen in this theatre form.


It is usually associated with Uttar Pradesh. The most popular centres of this traditional theatre form are Kanpur, Lucknow and Hatras. Gulab Bai of Kanpur gave a new dimension to this old theatre form.


It is based exclusively on lord Krishna’s legends. It is believed that Nand Das wrote the initial plays based or the life of Krishna. In this theatre form, the dialogues in prose combine beautifully with songs and scenes from Krishna’s prank.


It is the traditional theatre form of Gujarat. The centres of this form are Kutch and Kathiawar.


This form was born and nurtured in Bengal. It is a musical play which was part of fairs in honour of Gods or religious rituals and ceremonies. Krishna Jatra became popular due to Chaitanya’s influence. Later, however, worldly love stories too found a place in Jatra.


It is the traditional theatre form of Madhya Pradesh. The term Maach is used for the stage itself as also for the play. In this theatre form, songs are given prominence in between the dialogues.


It is the presentation of the Ankia Naat of Assam. In Bhaona, cultural glimpses of Assam, Bengal, Orissa, Mathura and Brindavan can be seen. The Sutradhaar or narrator begins the story, first in Sanskrit and then in either Brajboli or Assamese.

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It is a traditional folk theatre form of Maharashtra. It has evolved from the folk forms such as Gondhal, Jagran and Kirtan. Unlike other theatre forms, in Tamaasha, the female actress is the chief exponent of dance movements in the play. She is known as Murki.


It is the most developed theatre form in the Konkan and Goa regions. The reformers personify the 40 incarnations of lord Vishnu the God of Preservation and Creativity.


It is a traditional and extremely popular folk theatre form in Kerala. The word Theyyam is derived from the Sanskrit word, Daivam meaning God.


It is one of the oldest traditional theatre forms of Kerala. It is based on Sanskrit theatre traditions.


It is the traditional theatre form of Karnataka. It is based on mythological stories and Puranas.


It is a popular form of folk drama in Tamil Nadu. It literally means street play.     

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